Sunday, July 5, 2015

Visualizing the Yield Curve   


Gregor Aisch And Amanda Cox, writing for The New York Times back in March:

The yield curve shows how much it costs the federal government to borrow money for a given amount of time, revealing the relationship between long- and short-term interest rates.

It is, inherently, a forecast for what the economy holds in the future — how much inflation there will be, for example, and how healthy growth will be over the years ahead — all embodied in the price of money today, tomorrow and many years from now.

This is a really fascinating way to visualize interest rates – one which I don’t recall seeing before despite spending the majority of my time at work dealing with this stuff. It would be even more interesting if the data went back another decade – when interest rates were at record highs – to really put today’s low rates in perspective.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Get our ‘Music Monday’ playlist on Apple Music


If you’re using Apple Music, you can add our ‘Music Monday’ playlist to your library for free. The ‘Music Monday’ playlist contains all of the songs we’ve previously featured on Things of Interest and new songs will automatically show up in your playlist over time.

To add the Things of Interest ‘Music Monday’ playlist to your device, simply visit

Once the playlist opens in the Music app (on iOS) or iTunes (on Mac), click the ‘+’ symbol to permanently save it to your library. If you have any issues or questions, leave us a comment below.

Music Monday Playlist

First Look: Apple Music   


Jim Dalrymple, writing for The Loop:

Music is an important part of my life. I care about every aspect of music, from creating to mixing, playing to listening, and seeing bands live. I feel music in my soul. Music has the ability to make me sad, angry, happy and every emotion in between.

I sat down yesterday with Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, and Beats Founder Jimmy Iovine to talk about Apple Music. I also started using the new service myself, so I wanted to give you my thoughts on what I found so far, good and bad.

Jim provides a thoughtful and thorough overview of Apple Music. Having used the new service for the past two days, I really like it. I had some strange issues signing up1, but overall the service is great once you have it up and running.

My two favourite features thus far are:

  • the way Apple Music seamlessly merges my existing iTunes library of 10,000+ songs with the Apple Music catalogue, giving me quick access to the stuff I like most while providing unlimited access to 30 million other songs
  • playlists from third-party curators such as Shazam and Rolling Stone found under the ‘New’ section

Apple advertised early iPods with the tagline “1,000 songs in your pocket” and I think of the new Apple Music service as “every song in your pocket.”2 It is mind-blowing the first time you realize that you don’t have to carefully select which songs or albums to purchase because they are all included. I realize other streaming services have provided this ability for some time, but there’s something different about Apple Music – I used Spotify’s free tier for several months but disliked the user interface and never fully understood how to discover new music. Having tried Apple Music, I’m confident that I can delete the Spotify app without any regrets.

If there’s a common criticism of Apple Music, it relates to complexity. The service consists of several ambiguously named sections such as ‘For You’, ‘New’, and ‘Connect’. What lies beneath these simple titles is essentially several different streaming services wrapped into one:

  • For You: provides customized playlists and album recommendations based on your musical tastes, constantly updated as Apple Music learns from your listening habits and the songs you mark with the “Love” symbol throughout Apple Music. Think of this as a replacement for Beats Music.
  • New: a combination of new releases, top charts, and editorialized playlists from Apple and select third-parties. Think of this as a replacement for Spotify.
  • Radio: a combination of genre-based radio stations featuring hand-picked songs from Apple, a traditional live radio station called Beats 1 produced by humans, and algorithm-based radio stations that you create based on a particular song, album, artist, or genre that you can then further customize to your preferences by telling Apple Music to “Play More Like This” or “Play Less Like This”. Think of this of this as a replacement for Pandora and traditional radio.
  • Connect: a social network that artists can use to post content for the fans that follow them.
  • My Music: a ‘treasure chest’ containing your original iTunes library and items from the Apple Music catalogue (including playlists) that you opt to “Add to My Music”. Think of this as a replacement for the original iTunes combined with a bookmarking utility.

So yes, Apple Music is complex, but with that complexity comes a lot of flexibility and powerful features. You can go from selecting every single song you want to hear by playing content from ‘My Music’, to selecting a genre and letting Apple’s editors pick the songs using the curated playlists in the ‘New’ section, to giving up all control by letting the producers and DJs of Beats 1 select everything you hear. That you get all of this for $9.99 a month ($14.99 for a family) is pretty impressive.

  1. I signed up members of my family for Apple Music using the iPhone app. Between selecting the Apple Music Family plan, accepting new iTunes Terms & Conditions, validating credit card security codes, and entering Apple IDs, I would estimate that the sign-up process took between 5 and 15 steps for each family member. Sign-up for the Family Sharing organizer account was relatively straight forward, but adding additional family members required several steps that I’m sure were bugs. Ultimately, each additional family member would get to a sign-up screen with all buttons greyed out and the only option was to force-quit the Music app. Luckily, upon restarting the app, the registration process was complete and the family members were able to start using Apple Music. 
  2. Apple Music doesn’t include ‘every song’ but there sure are a lot! While some big names (like The Beatles and Prince) are noticeably absent on day one, Apple Music has some exclusive content not available on other streaming services. Hopefully the catalogue improves over time, and even if it doesn’t, it is still quite comprehensive. 
Monday, June 29, 2015

The Oregon Trail Generation   


Anna Garvey:

We’re an enigma, those of us born at the tail end of the ’70s and the start of the ’80s. Some of the “generational” experts lazily glob us on to Generation X, and others just shove us over to the Millennials they love to hate — no one really gets us or knows where we belong. […]

A big part of what makes us the square peg in the round hole of named generations is our strange relationship with technology and the Internet. We came of age just as the very essence of communication was experiencing a seismic shift, and it’s given us a unique perspective that’s half analog old school and half digital new school.

Markets Brace for ‘Leap Second’   


Bob Ivry and Yuji Nakamura writing for Bloomberg:

Since 1967, when clocks went atomic, human timekeeping has been independent of the earth’s rotation. The problem is, the planet is slowing down and clocks are not. So every few years, to get everything back in sync, scientists add a second. They’ve done it 25 times since 1972. The last time was 2012, but that was on a weekend. June 30 will be the first leap second during trading hours since markets went electronic.

Anyone that’s had to deal with the nuances of dates or times knows just how complicated horology and chronometry are. Take for example the algorithm for determining leap years – there’s more to it than just adding an extra day to the calendar every four years. With intricacies like daylight savings, leap seconds, and time zones, it’s surprising that we don’t run into serious issues more often. What will you be doing with your extra second on June 30?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

London’s Cereal Cafe   


Anucyia Victor writing for the Daily Mail Online:

With 120 cereals, 20 types of toppings and 12 varieties of milk, self-confessed cereal obsessives Alan and Gary Keery have taken their love of the breakfast staple to new heights with UK’s first cereal cafe. […]

Cereals are sourced from America, South Africa, France, Australia, South Korea as well as the UK and will be served alongside 13 varieties of milk as well as 20 types of topping.

Forget fish and chips – this is at the top of my list the next time I’m in London.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Adobe Updates Lightroom   



Adobe today announced a major update to its Creative Cloud Photography plan with the release of an all-new Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC that delivers lightning-fast performance and new tools to edit, enhance, organize and showcase beautiful photos. With Lightroom CC and the legendary magic of Photoshop CC, Adobe Creative Cloud Photography empowers photographers to transform photos into amazing shots. Creative Cloud Photography also includes unique sophisticated mobile capabilities: automatically syncing photos with Lightroom CC on the desktop, Lightroom on mobile devices lets users access and edit their entire catalog of photos on iPad, iPhone as well as Android smartphones and tablets.


New features in this release include:

  • HDR Merge –- Create natural-looking or surreal images from extremely high-contrast scenes by easily combining multiple shots taken with different exposure settings into a single raw high dynamic range image.
  • Panorama Merge — Capture super wide fields of view and amazing detail by stitching together multiple images to create stunning raw panorama shots.
  • Performance Improvement & GPU Enhancements — Perfect photos up to 10 times faster than ever.
  • Facial Recognition — Quickly find and categorize images of family and friends.

With the death of Aperture and the disappointing lack of pro features in its ‘Photos for OS X’ successor, I’ve decided to make the switch to Adobe Lightroom. Moving an existing library of 28,000 digital photographs – 2,500 of which had adjustments applied – is a tedious and frustrating process, but I’m hopeful that it will be a worthwhile annoyance. In the little time I’ve spent with Lightroom it feels superior to Aperture in every possible way and the new features announced this past week will only help to improve the experience.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Brewing Problem   


James Hamblin, writing for The Atlantic:

In 2010, journalist and caffeine aficionado Murray Carpenter visited the Keurig facilities in Waterbury, Vermont, reporting for The New York Times that the K-Cup idea posed environmental concerns, as the pods were not recyclable or biodegradable. It was that same year that the Keurig model seemed to take off, doubling in sales. In a 2011 local-boys-make-it-big story in the Boston Globe magazine, Eric Anderson, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, likewise noted that the coffee machines could invite significant backlash because they “generate a ton of plastic waste.”

At the time of Carpenter’s visit, Keurig was on pace to sell three million K-Cups. So to say that growth has been good since then is understatement; last year they topped 9 billion. But today the cups are still not recyclable or biodegradable.

Unfortunately, convenience and waste tend to be positively correlated. Disposable diapers, plastic water bottles, and increasingly single-serving beverages.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The ugly afterlife of crowdfunding projects that never ship and never end   


Casey Johnston writing for Ars Technica:

The public life-cycle of a Kickstarter rarely ends in tragedy. Often, if a Kickstarter manages to get covered by the media before its funding round end, or even starts, it can meet its goal within days, and superfluous funds continue to roll in over the next few weeks. By the time its crowdfunding stage closes, the creators, backers, and media alike are excited and proud to have ushered this new project so quickly to a place of prosperity, eager for it to continue to grow.

Plenty of projects manage to deliver the goods, even if the timeline slides a bit. That was the case with Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter game Broken Age. If creators miss deadlines, backers typically continue to receive updates via e-mail and the Kickstarter page. But sometimes the end of funding is the beginning of a slide into radio silence, which ultimately turns into few or no backer orders fulfilled, and no satisfactory explanation for why the project didn’t pan out according to the orderly delivery schedule the creators promised.

Fix the Home and End keys on Mac OS X   


Matthew Holt:

If you use a keyboard that’s not designed specifically for Macs, you probably are familiar with the annoying mapping of the Home and End keys: they scroll to the beginning or end of an entire document, with no regard to the cursor’s location.

Fortunately it’s an easy fix.

After purchasing a new Mac, this was one of the first tweaks I made.